Adventures of Cookie the Stray, Chapter 12
The sun reached its peak hours earlier scouring the path with a constant stream of midday heat. Cookie and Nicole stopped at the remains of an old rusted out car to rest in its shade. A short distance up the road they heard a car engine slow as it made a creaking turn into their section of woods. The dogs backed deeper into their hiding place as it drove past them.
The car rolled to a stop and then slipped into reverse. As it backed into the brush they tensed, ready to run deeper into the woods when the driver opened the window and threw something out. There was a rattling clunk as it hit the ground before the car slipped into gear and moved away. Cookie waited until the sound of its engine faded before crawling out to investigate. She caught a whiff of an enticing odor that seemed to be coming from the bag next to the trail.
“Come help me with this,” she called to Nicole. Together they ripped open the plastic with their teeth and claws. Covered in coffee grounds and mixed with other trash was a rectangular box with red letters circling the image of a chicken. In the box were several containers with remnants of potatoes, beans and the chicken skins. They carefully licked each of the containers until they were spotless. Energized by the partial meal, they resumed their trek onward, leaving behind other scavengers that ripped and rooted through the refuse.
Nicole had been quiet for a long time when Cookie suddenly stopped causing Nicole to plow into her rear end. Both dogs cocked their heads at the sound of another car approaching.
“Maybe it’s more food,” Nicole said, hope in her voice. The sound of the engine grew louder echoing off the silence of the trees. Cookie listened, head cocked at an angle, trying to pick up a familiar voice. She heard only the sound of whooping laughter coming from the approaching vehicle. Suddenly a loud crack rang out as a .22 caliber slug flew over their heads.
“Run!” Cookie screamed. The pups took off into the dense brush as another shot rang out.
“You missed ‘em again, you idiot,” a loud voice bellowed. A bottle flew out and struck a tree near the dogs. Shards of glass flew about as it shattered above their heads. Brakes squealed and dirt flew in an arch as the car made a U-turn and headed back the other way. Two more shots rang out, pinging off trees and sputtering into the soft dirt. The dogs made it to the dense the tree line and the safety of the undergrowth, tearing through the brambles, adrenaline pummeling them forward.
“Yee haw!” screamed a boy from the back seat as the car sped out of sight. They could hear a distant crack as another bottle struck something down the trail. A stream of exhaust fumes remained in the clearing as the quiet of the forest returned. Once they were sure the boys with the gun were gone, Nicole turned to her sister for an explanation.
“Why were those boys shooting at us?” Nicole asked. Cookie shrugged. The smaller pup studied her sister’s face before she asked the harder question Cookie dreaded. “And where are our parents?”
Cookie knew it was time to share the unpleasant truth. She hesitated, not wanting to spoil Nicole’s tender trust with the harsh reality of their situation. She sat down and pawed at the ground stalling for time.
“We’re on our own now, sis,” the words finally poured out. “They’re not coming back for us.” She watched Nicole’s expression change as the meaning sunk in.
“Our mom’s not coming?”
“No, they’re not coming.” There was an awkward silence as Nicole processed this before accepting her sister’s word as true. She crawled from under the brush and headed back toward the narrow road taking the lead. Cookie followed closely behind as they headed toward the sound of gurgling water off in the distance.
The woods stretched onward as the two pups followed a narrow winding trail barely visible through the thick undergrowth. Eventually, they came upon a large body of water, fed by several trickling streams. Their thirst quenched, they rested for a few moments before heading farther into the woods. The sun was dropping below the tree line when Cookie spotted a small clearing beyond a pile of old tires. She finally spoke the words Nicole longed to hear.
“Let’s stop here for the night,” Cookie whispered. Nicole followed her off the path where they took shelter beside the tires. Dusk turned into night and darkness closed in around them. Nicole fell fast asleep while Cookie worked at freeing a thorn lodged in her paw, licking and biting at the wound. Once it was out, Cookie fell into a deep slumber, dreaming of a soft, warm bed safely snuggled against her mother’s warmth. The sounds of the night grew louder with birds chirping their messages across tree tops and rodents scurrying in the underbrush. So deep was their sleep that neither pup heard the footsteps of two dogs that approached the campsite from the opposite side.
Rover and Buddy were tired. They’d followed the railroad tracks for miles before circling back to the familiar campsite. They headed toward the spot with the overturned blue plastic pool where they had slept before the hot dog man showed up. Crawling into the space, they both fell into a restless sleep.
Cookie the Stray
Cookie awoke first and regarded her littermate in slumber. She hesitated to awaken Nicole to the reality that had become their daily life. Instead, she let Nicole enjoy the dreamy delights of sleep as she explored. Weak streams of daylight filtered into the clearing as the other creatures in the forest awakened. Her listening skills had sharpened with the changes in their lives. She scanned the area for signs of movement. In the center of the clearing was a pile of ashes that had once been a campfire. There were telltale signs of recent activity. A broken branch lay nearby that still had green leaves and there were brush marks in the dirt. If she listened hard enough she could hear the gurgling stream that ran to the lake where they’d quenched their thirst last night. They’d followed a worn path that led toward a recent odor of cooked food. She sniffed around for the source of the smell.
They no longer had the rounded plump puppy look they once had in the box. Lean, trim and muscular, they looked like miniature images of their mother. Their fur, once soft and fuzzy, had grown stiff and bristly from the lack of proper nutrition. Living on their own, they had faced things most puppies gave little thought to like a safe place to sleep, regular meals and fresh water. Their heightened awareness of danger in their surroundings had robbed them of the carefree puppy expressions they once wore.
“I smell something tasty,” Cookie said loud enough that it awoke her sister.
Old Railroad Tressle
“What is it?” Nicole yawned and looked over to where Cookie was sniffing a flat rock with bits of crusty flavor cooked on to its surface.
“I think it might be fish,” she answered. Nicole came running over and they both licked the top of the stone. Close to the ashes of what had once been a fire were two pointed sticks with a different smell. They finished with the stone and each took a stick and began chewing the flavorful pointed end.
“This tastes like the hot dogs our human mom cooked outside on the grill,” Nicole said between bites. Cookie was pleased with her sister’s recollection of when they’d both been tiny.
“Remember the apartment above the pizza parlor?”
“That was a long, long time ago.” Their faces took on an expression of contentment as they gnawed the tasty sticks. When the flavor was gone, the dogs retraced their steps to the stream and quenched their thirst with a long, cool drink. On the way back to the campsite, Nicole tripped over a log in the path and fell onto a twig propped up on a rock. As it cracked, they both froze, aware of a presence in the clearing.
Out in the Country
Ahead, two dogs rested under a battered plastic pool wedged at an odd angle against the base of a large tree. The dog with thick fur looked like an enormous wolf with a tan mask on a heart-shaped forehead. His tan head cocked quizzically as he crawled out from under the pool with the grace of a waking giant, moving closer to the newcomers.
Rover stood and made a bold approach at Cookie greeting her in the manner of dogs, sniffing at her hind quarters. That caused an explosion of high-pitched shrieking and barks from both Nicole and Cookie that took the larger dogs by surprise.
Cookie snarled, showing a full set of adult teeth. Rover backed away at once and sat down with his back toward the smaller dogs. Buddy tilted his head and gave them a glance, then, lay down with his chin on his paws.
All four dogs lay down, two on either side of the dead campfire carefully watching each other. Their recent truce was interrupted by the piercing noise of a train whistle far in the distance. Four heads rose as a chorus of howling erupted in the woods. Moments later they heard the sound of human footsteps coming down the path.
© 2017 Peg Cole